Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Daughter of Horror

I have watched a lot of movies that make no sense. However, i cannot recall one more bewildering than Daughter of Horror.
 A bizzarro horror-noir-expressionist-surrealist mishmosh, Daughter of Horror--also known as Dementia--is a late 50s silent film about a schizophrenic beatnik chick. It's basically one long dream sequence with a lot of jazz clubs and sweaty, creepy guys and a weird fixation on knives and cigars. It is the sole film credit of many of the people involved. That is probably a good thing.
While Daughter of Horror is a silent film, it does not lack for sound. The music is by avant-garde composer George Antheil (who also helped Hedy Lamarr invent the cellphone) with wordless melisma by Marni Nixon (who also did the vocals for Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady), doing an excellent impression of a Theremin. There's also a brief digression into a basement jazz club featuring Shorty Rogers and his Giants. And, occasionally, we get some truly bombastic narration courtesy of none other than Ed McMahon.
In fact, that's the first thing we get: An underexposed image of the sweaty visage of a young Ed, looming in a field of "stars" and intoning, "Let me take you into the mind of a woman who is mad! This is a place where there is no love, no hope... in the pulsing, throbbing world of the insane mind, where only nightmares are real, nightmares of the Daughter of Horror!" 
If you thought the opening of Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf was a low-rent ripoff of Night of the Hunter, it has nothing on Daughter of Horror
Our heroine--she looks kind of like a cross between Leslie Caron and  Rachel Maddow in beat girl drag--awakens in a seedy hotel room and finds her two totem objects in a drawer: A groovy medallion necklace and an ominously large switchblade. She wanders out, past a bruised, sobbing woman, a guy being hauled away by the cops and a handful of rubberneckers. Out on the streets of Venice Beach, Beatnik Chick runs into "MYSTERIOUS STABBING"--oh, for the pre-Buzzfeed days of the totally opaque headline. The newspaper is being waved by a little person because, well, as Peter Dinklage himself once said, "The only place I've seen dwarves in dreams is in stupid movies like this! "Oh make it weird, put a dwarf in it!"
Some drunks grab, her, some guy beats up the drunks, some other guy summons her over to a car where another guy--a sort of Orson Welles and Jack Black hybrid--flashes his wallet. Beatnik Chick gets into the back of the car with him... wait? She's a hooker? A hooker in a suit and a turtleneck with no lipstick?
Beatnik Chick swings between laughing hysterically and laughing psychotically, a pattern she will continue throughout the movie. It's not that Beatnik Chick is out of fucks to give: She never had any to start with.
They go to the first of a series of nightclubs that we will wander into during the course of Daughter of Horror. It's a pretty good way to kill time: Nightclub montage. It's more interesting than the extended scenes of Beatnik Chick staring into a mirror or looking intensely at various objects or running down the street pursued by the spotlight of paranoia--or maybe it's the cops, who can tell?
Over the sound of horns and leers of the Creepy John, the over-the-top tones of Ed McMahon are heard: "The pulse of the neon lights, like a hammer at your brain! Tormenting you, haunting you! Forcing you to think, forcing you to remember your guilt, your horror!" And now we head into a flashback--well, i mean, kind of a flashback, given that this is the dream of a crazy person, so it's hard to tell. But anyway, some guy with a bodega-robbery stocking over his face leads her to a graveyard and then we see some kind of re-enactment of her childhood amidst the tombstones...

Dad smacks daughter (of horror), mom cheats on dad, dad shoots mom, daughter stabs dad. Boom.

Post-flashback, Beatnik Chick and Creepy John go to his apartment, which is in some kind of huge office building with giant stairs. He has a grand piano and a full bar but what really compels his attention is an enormous plate of greasy chicken wings. He scarfs wings, scarfs wings, scarfs wings, ignoring the increasingly agitated murderess sitting about six feet away.
Yeah, he gets his, as does any cigar-smoking man of girth who gets handsy with the Daughter of Horror. In some ways--delusional, intermittently catatonic heroine who represses shit and stabs people--Daughter of Horror is also like a D-grade proto-Repulsion. I wonder if Polanski ever saw it.
Anyway, after killing him, Beatnik Chick realizes he's grabbed her medallion as she pushed him (and his money) out of the window of his skyscraper (Take that, Ayn Rand! Emma Goldman and Diane Di Prima all the way!) She has to get it back! Thus we have the dismemberment, more faceless men, more Venice at night, more jazz club montage, more Beatnik Chick hysteria, more Ed McMahon: "The face of your first victim! Pursuing you relentlessly through your haunted dreams! Hunting you mercilessly through the twisted corridors of your tortured mind!"
Daughter of Horror is an inexplicable flick. One cannot figure out why it was made or how or by who. It's also reminiscent of the movies my college roommates used to make for their film schools--not the final project, but the projects they had to turn in a few times a year, which were inevitably underplanned and then stuffed with random surrealism and excessive portentiousness as some kind of feeble compensation. And, like here, all of the shots went on too long--when one is planning a student film or cable access TV show, one tends to be surprised at how quickly everything goes on screen. You thought something would take 90 seconds, it takes 30. If you're a pro, you know that already and plan, or you find a way to make something happen for that 90 seconds. If not, you just let that damn shot drag on three times as long as it should.
Still, there is something to be said for Daughter of Horror's unique brand of insanity and bargain-basement surrealism. It would make a fine TV backdrop for any Halloween party--actually, it's the film the teenagers were watching in the original version of The Blob when the blob invaded the movie theater. It's a B-movie's B-movie: That should tell you something about Daughter of Horror.

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